Paris in the mid-nineteen-seventies, and the hubbub of traffic and machinery on the streets has no respite, an overwhelming cacophony and jumble of ambulatory bodies that all merge into one mass of movement and drab colour. If you wish to lose yourself in a crowd, this is the perfect city to do it in, as all ages and colours of its denizens come together to allow any sense of identity to slacken and become just another face as the world goes by, seemingly uncaring and unable to hang onto anything.
Walerian Borowczyk was a highly individual director who became known through his animations, then his horror movies and then his sex films, those latter two having quite a bit of crossover in his skewed vision of adult fairy tales. By 1975 he had fled his native Poland and was well ensconced in the artistic life of the West, making France his base, which led him to venture out onto the streets of the French capital and capture as much random footage as he could, this random quality his motivating factor in editing it together.
That editing style over the course of a largely staccato forty minutes of footage snatched from the director's rovings could best be described as scattershot, as he subjected the audience to an assault on the senses both in sound and vision, the roar of the cars, buses and trucks mixed with the occasional workmen's machines, snatches of voices, dogs barking and so forth that would replicate what it was like to anonymously wander those streets. Even when we take a break and investigate a cemetery or playpark, the growls of the vehicles are never far enough away to allow us to lose ourselves in contemplative peace.
That's because there is no peace, and though Letter from Paris does resemble a home movie for a tourist from some angles, there is nevertheless a philosophy behind it, and it is not necessarily a benevolent one. Despite the director finding time to pick up on a plethora of little old ladies and small children alike, who either ignore the camera or stare it down in grim or amused acknowledgement, we never have a sense of an individual we could highlight to talk to, as all the faces begin to blur into one melange. As montages go, this is a sustained rush of glimpses, many too fast in their presentation to take in, so much so that you may find yourself having trouble remembering anything in particular to take away from its visuals, never mind the constant racket. But that was the point, that living in a bustling metropolis like Paris was going to have a dehumanising effect should you merely exist in it, and not find a way in to engage with it.
[Click here to watch on MUBI.]